*The New York Islanders were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but here at the New York Sports Hub, we are turning back the clock to provide a recap of each month of the 2014-15 Islanders season.
There is an old adage in the NHL: if a team is in the playoffs by Thanksgiving, they have very good odds of cementing that spot come season end. Now granted, the 2014/15 NHL season seemed to poke multiple holes in that theory (Minnesota and Ottawa come to mind immediately) but as a general rule it still fit.
For the New York Islanders, entering the month of December at a record of 17-7-0, the playoffs were definitely coming into focus as a honest to god possibility. And not only were the playoffs a major topic of discussion, but so was the thought that the Islanders could win the Metropolitan Division outright. Such a statement would have seemed relatively insane at the start of the season, but few were arguing with the results by December.
The Islanders had laid waste to the NHL in the month of November, while also going against the grain and not falling into the usual “November swoon” that seemed to plague the franchise for years prior.
Jaroslav Halak’s play entering December was at a level not seen by an Islanders goaltender since the best money goalie of all time, Billy Smith, ran the crease. Again, entering into the season, the expectations for Halak would probably be best categorized as “solid.” Yet by the time the Islanders traveled to Ottawa to take on the Senators on December 4th, Halak had an opportunity to break Smith’s record of consecutive wins in team history (this is not the place to debate the quality of the record, but I would be remiss if I did not mention Smith’s record came during a time in which there was no overtime).
20 saves later, the Islanders had swept a home and home with Ottawa, and Halak had an Islanders record to his name.
December also featured, in this writer’s opinion, the most entertaining and exciting win of the Islanders season when Chicago Blackhawks came to town on the 13th. While the Los Angeles Kings were the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Blackhawks sustained period of excellent play (not to mention two Cup wins in the previous handful of years) always makes defeating them an accomplishment.
LubomirVisnovsky tallied the go ahead goal halfway through the 3rd period, capping an Islanders comeback that kept the team from dropping four games in a row. While the bouts with the Rangers in January arguably had more juice in the building, the Isles proved that they had the capability to hang with the best team in the Western Conference, an achievement that gave a lot of reasons for hope.
Yet for all the positives the Islanders were bringing to the table, December proved to be a month where disturbing tendencies began to appear, tendencies that would decidedly haunt the team for the rest of the season. Every NHL team will lose games to teams that it ostensibly shouldn’t: if sports were that easy to predict then gambling in Vegas would be a profitable venture. When the Islanders traveled to Buffalo on December 27th, it should have been an easy win for New York.
The Sabres were in the process of pulling off one of the greatest intentional self destructive seasons hockey has ever seen, in the hopes of eventually landing the right to choose Connor McDavid as the savior of Buffalo. Instead, the Isles thwarted Buffalo’s plan, and lost in an eventual shoot out performance.
Meanwhile, earlier in the month, losses to the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild both saw the Islanders race out to early 3-0 leads, only to see those leads vanish. The loss to the latter was particularly aggravating for Islanders fans, who had the unfortunate luck to see former Islanders Thomas Vanek and Nino Niederreiter contribute to the Wild’s win with a goal apiece. The fact that the Islanders lost those games, taken in the proper context, wasn’t the worrying part.
The blown multiple goal leads were. And as we move through the remainder of our recaps for the regular season, the occurrence of those blown leads is going to come up again…. and again …. and again.